11 Apr 2024

3 Body Problem's Kiwi lead

From Nine To Noon, 10:05 am on 11 April 2024
Jess Hong stars in Netflix's '3 Body Problem'.

Photo: Netflix

Netflix's new sci-fi series 3 Body Problem is one of the most talked about shows on the planet right now - and it stars a Kiwi actress in one of the leading roles.

Jess Hong is an Auckland-born New Zealand actress of Chinese descent, known for her roles in local dramas, The Brokenwood MysteriesCreamerie, and Inked. 

Now, her latest part sees her playing a genius physicist, Jin Cheng, one of five young scientists navigating a fraying world as the laws of the science begin to crack - threatening humanity. 

3 Body Problem is from Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss and True Blood writer Alexander Woo.

She spoke with Kathryn Ryan about her life-changing role. 

On the buzz around 3 Body Problem 

“What was the bee has become the whole beehive, it's pretty intense buzz. I’m not gonna lie it’s the biggest job I've ever done and suddenly a huge step up from the Kiwi gigs that I was doing before and all the theatre work that I was doing before.”

 On finding out she’d landed the gig

“I ran around the house screaming like five times, that's for sure when I found out. So, I knew it was huge, even if it's just for the fact that I get to work for nine months in another country.

"And also, just the quality of the writing really stood out to me when I read these scripts. It was so moving that I was in my bed reading these scripts, and I'm crying and laughing and gasping and I knew that this was something really special.”

On the meaning of the title 3 Body Problem

"The three-body problem itself is supposedly an unsolvable problem. Let's say a two-body problem is the moon orbiting Earth. And then if you introduced another third celestial body in there, that kind of messed with everyone's gravity and made it so that you do have these unpredictable paths between the Earth, the Moon and this third body, then that's the three body problem.”

On the challenges of a complex, non-linear shoot

“Towards the latter end of the shoots, where the show runners are still figuring things out and adding new scenes and switching things around, you might spend the mornings shooting episode six, and then in the afternoon, you're on to episode four.

"And then you just flick back to number seven. So, it does get a bit mind boggling at times. However, all I had to focus on was Jin’s story, and her relationships and everything she goes through.”

On being involved in an acting master class

“I'm so lucky that I got to work with such talented and experienced people, because I got to just have a master class every day, if I was acting with John Bradley, if I was acting with Benny, [Benedict Wong] if I was acting with Rosalind Chao. I just felt like a student every day, which you'd hoped for any job.”

On her first experience of working with visual effects

“It was learning a different way to access my imagination, than for instance theatre where you're experiencing everything in your imagination and delivering it with the audience.

“This time, it was just this minute moments, you might spend an entire day to film literally two minutes of the show, because it has to be in such detail.

“So, there's something about stamina, about really carefully marking out your journey so you know exactly which point you're at. So that you can match emotionally where you were, like three weeks ago when you shot the same thing.”

Dealing with “imposter syndrome”

"It was such a jump in my career. I definitely battled that a few days, few weeks, a few months. But I realised the longer I was working that I am capable, and I can actually just do the job that I trained for and worked so hard for

“So, there's kind of an internal shift that is very profound for all my days after. I guess just living in another country for the first time and realising that you're much more capable of things than you than you thought.”

On why she took up acting

“I actually started because I used to be so socially anxious as a kid that I couldn't even look people in the eyes or hold a conversation.

“So, I started drama in high school as a self-help exercise. I wanted to be more confident. And it worked. It worked a little bit too well, now I'm usually the loudest person in the room.

“But I also wanted to be an optimist because, I don't know I was just an angsty teen like a lot of us have been, and I was very pessimistic about the world. I didn't really hope for much and I wanted to know what it was like to hope, to live with hope.

“Drama was the beginning of that and I realised through that, that I could express myself in ways that I'd had never been able to in my real life. Because suddenly under the guise of different characters I just felt like permission to be vulnerable to be open in the world.”

Jess Hong is a panelist at next month’s Auckland Writers Festival where she's speaking about the science behind science fiction, and how it can communicate some of the world's most complex ideas to even the most science-averse readers.